Strong female characters are one of the hardest sorts of characters to write realistically. Harder than writing a realistic POV character from the opposite gender. Harder even than not killing off your mentor character. 😛
Now, before we go any further, I should clarify. I’m not taking on the normal topic of strong female characters. There’s five gajillion articles about writing female characters who are inwardly strong, but today that’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the physically strong characters.
Why? Because all characters should be inwardly strong. Otherwise they’re bad characters. End of story. Every single character in a novel should have depth and thematic point, so I’m not going to talk about that.
Physically strong female characters are starting to dwindle. The stereotyped ‘strong female character’ has so much punching it right now that writers are getting too nervous about writing a physically strong female in case she gets slapped in the face with a ‘stereotype’ sticker.
But I love physically strong female characters. I love the aspect they can bring to a story. The juxtaposition. The snark.
One of my most favourite strong female characters ever is Beth Watkins from the Mission League. When she first walks onto the page, she looks and acts exactly like anyone would expect that stereotypical female character to look and act. But then layer after layer of personality and depth peels back and she’s not stereotypical at all. She’s a girl. She’s strong. She likes fighting. Sweet. That doesn’t make her stereotypical.
Diana Prince in a super (literally) strong female.
She and the Amazons can do flips, do archery while swinging through the air, dodge flying spears, best anyone in a sword fight. Diana is such an innocent character, so wide eyed and idealistic and honest. And she can fight better than the guys. Is she a stereotype? No. She’s a unique character, because of her personality.
Just having a girl being strong and good at fighting doesn’t make her a stereotype.
If that’s true, then what is it that makes people put a girl into that category?
It’s all about realism.
Personally I have delved into several different martial arts and gymnastics over my writing career. Parkour, taekwondo, muay thai, boxing, karate, general self defense. I’ve never actually taken lessons in any of them, but I’ve practiced techniques from all and know the theory behind quite a few. Obviously someone who actually knows any of these would be fifty times better than me, but I’m not totally ignorant. 😛
As a writer, I highly recommend researching into martial arts if you’re going to write a character who has those skills. As a girl, I have experience in what it’s like to try these sorts of things, and it’s so much easier to write when I know what it feels like from personal experience.
We get a stereotype when every second scene in the book goes something like this:
Girl fights ten giant guys in an alley. Totally thrashes them because she’s awesome. Woot, happy times, good job to our strong female character.
It’s not realistic.
This is where people normally push the female character to the side, saying that a girl can’t win in that situation.
No. A girl could win. But not just by bashing everyone’s heads in.
With any sort of martial art, there is always a technique. Always a strategy. People don’t just randomly throw punches and kicks at whim. There is always a plan behind every move.
If a girl relies on her strength, there’s a high chance that she’ll lose the fight. But if she can use strategy and strength combined she can definitely thrash a trained guy. To take an example from Beth Watkins again:
An easy hip throw sent me to the mat. I shook my head and blinked, but didn’t move fast enough. She [Beth] kneeled on my back, but I managed to get my arms under myself before she could grab one. I could easily get free. She dug her knee into my back. I cringed as I worked my leg up to roll her.
“You’re doing good… Spencer,” she whispered in my ear. “I was wrong about you. Maybe we should go out.”
I pushed up to roll over and blinked. Was she serious?
The next thing I knew, she’d flipped me onto my back and pinned me in a front strangle, seconds before the whistle blew.
Here, Beth was losing the fight against Spencer. But then she played on his weakness and that distraction was enough for this trained teen girl to take out a 6’4″ trained teenage guy.
Strong female characters can be realistic. Don’t shy away from writing them just because if you have a physically strong female ‘she must be a stereotype.’
Yes, we need more inwardly strong female characters, but we also need that for all other characters as well. We don’t want to waste the well of possibility in physically strong females. They can bring a new twist into the story, and they can be done really well. Don’t be afraid of that stereotype sticker, it’s not the strength factor that makes them a stereotype.
Your turn! What are your thoughts on physically strong female characters? Have you ever trained in a martial art?